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That's a Great Question—Defining the Purpose of Your Research
The primary mission of VCOT is the dissemination of new research findings that improve the quality of patient care, and the outcomes. Like the process of being a specialist surgeon, becoming competent in research also requires training under the guidance of a mentor. Well-designed research projects should be reproducible and yield results that are credible. Defining the research question is a pivotal first step in all good research. While the importance of this might seem obvious, not all “questions” are answerable, practical, or sufficiently important to warrant investigation. The execution of a good research project costs time, money, and effort. Therefore, it is important to focus on a question intended to advance our knowledge, and potentially improve patient outcomes in the short or long term.
There are three main venues in which the strength of a research question will be scrutinized and judged. Firstly, the investigator, be they a neophyte or experienced investigator, must develop the research question to initiate the research project. There are numerous situations that can prompt the motivation to conduct research. Quite commonly residents in training are required by their college to conduct a research project and publish it in a peer-reviewed journal. So, while the resident may be mostly interested in doing surgery, they will need this project to meet credentialing requirements. Having a high case load in clinical practice of a certain type of injury or surgical procedure, such as total hip arthroplasty, can be an excellent starting point. However, the next most difficult step is to identify the clinical problem to be studied, and from this develop and refine the question to be answered with these patient data. The process by which this can be achieved is described by the acronym PICOT. PICOT stands for Patient population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome and Time. The learning resources on the AO Foundation website (www.aopeer.org) provide training on using the PICOT approach.
The second situation in which a good “question” is essential will be writing the research grant proposal to get funding for the research. Provided that the initial planning of the research project mentioned above has resulted in the clear identification of a clinical problem and the definition of research question, this can be “plugged” into the research grant proposal.
Thirdly, once the research results have been collected and analysed, these are reported in the paper to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. So ideally, there should be a seamless transition of the research question through each of these three steps. For the younger clinicians who are planning to embark on their first research project, it can be valuable training to analyse recently published papers in the field, such as those in VCOT, to assess the strength of the stated research question and the extent to which it helps to address a gap in our knowledge in that context. Furthermore, the AO PEER website is an excellent resource for knowledge and guidance on all aspects of doing clinical research.
Article published online:
30 August 2022
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